November 12, 2005

The Red Cross does wonderful work, but where's the Red Star of David?

Via Israel Highway:
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is universally recognized as a genuinely humanitarian organization. There are however a few dark stains on the seemingly whiter-than-white humanitarian organization. Several years ago, the director of archives for the Geneva-based ICRC confessed that the organization had kept silent while the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews. He admitted, "Very clearly, the ICRC's activities with regard to the Holocaust are sensed as a moral failure."

In more recent times, the ICRC was accused of another moral failure: the refusal to accept Israel's Magen David Adom (MDA) organization as a full member and to recognize the red Star of David as a humanitarian (and protected) symbol.

Since its creation more than 60 years ago, Magen David Adom has been denied membership after refusing to replace its red Star of David emblem with a red cross. At a 1929 conference, the Red Crescent (Islam’s symbol) and Red Lion and Sun (an Iranian symbol) were accepted. The organization's official reason for the denial of MDA membership was concern over symbol proliferation, which would lead to too many symbols and no universally recognized emblem.

This reasoning has rarely been accepted by those fighting for Magen David Adom admission. Many saw anti-Jewish or anti-Israel prejudice behind the ICRC's refusal. The American Red Cross in particular has been working hard to change the ICRC's position. In 2000, according to the then-president of the American Red Cross society, Dr. Bernadine Healy, "The international committee's feared proliferation of symbols is a pitiful fig leaf, used for decades as the reason for excluding the Magen David Adom." In protest, the American Red Cross organization began withholding millions of dollars in administrative funding to the International Committee of the Red Cross since May 2000.

Recently there have been changes that seek to correct this indefensible snub. In the 1990s the Red Cross society put aside long-standing discriminatory attitudes and cooperated with Magen David Adom on many occasions. Cooperative agreements have been signed to strengthen ties between the two organizations, an ICRC cooperation officer is now found in MDA headquarters, and the ICRC has given support to MDA's blood bank activities.

Current American Red Cross president Marsha Evans points out that MDA's participation in the relief efforts of last year's tsunami disaster "has provided further impetus for cooperation on many levels and the fact that the MDA has been treated as a full partner in responding to this disaster should not be overlooked." However, such cooperation does not mean the issue has been resolved. "While good progress has been made our goal is full inclusion," Evans points out.

The big test still remains full recognition of the Israeli society. In December, all of the member nations of the Red Cross Society will meet and discuss this issue. According to a press release from the international organization, "The diplomatic conference will bring together representatives of the 192 States that are party to the Geneva Conventions to decide on an additional protocol to those conventions. This is necessary because the additional emblem will need to have the same basis in international law as the red cross and the red crescent. The proposed design is a red frame in the form of a square standing on one of its points against a white background. This was chosen because it is free of political, religious, cultural or other connotations. It would be equal in every way to the existing red cross and red crescent emblems."

The latest proposal envisages that the Israeli MDA society would be allowed to put its red Star of David in the center of the crystal. This is seen as a move in the right direction and has been welcomed in many quarters. (The Israel HighWay)

Additional Reading

Swiss FM to Push for MDA's Acceptance in International Red Cross by Aluf Benn

Crosses, Crescents and Stars by Judy Siegel

International Red Cross May End Discrimination against Israel by Colin Rubenstein

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